Health

How To Overcome Procrastination and Stress

One of the common issues that many of my clients want to overcome is procrastination.  When the important things aren’t getting done and the to-do list keeps growing, it is frustrating to feel like you will never be on top of things.

Is life driving you or are you driving your life?

Let’s be honest.  Sometimes life is far too busy when you have a “to-do list” that seems way too long.  Tasks, responsibilities, and demands keep piling up, and sometimes it is easy to loose perspective.

If procrastination is a pattern that is familiar to you, chances are that when responsibility piles up, you may find yourself putting things off to cope. However, in the end, this is the cause of a world of overwhelm.  Being, mindful of this is important to create change.

IS PROCRASTINATING A HABIT IN YOUR LIFE?

Habits are patterns that we adopt and do over a period of time that become familiar to us.  They are the way that we end up ‘doing life’ because our brains are hardwired for following these.  Yet when something is not working of us in our lives, like procrastinating, it is important to step back and reevaluate.   It takes awareness and courage to interrupt old patterns and change them.

Let me tell you a story where procrastination created an enormous amount of stress in my life.

In my college years, I had to learn how to deal with the demands of my studies, the endless school work— term papers, requirements and exams.  I had the best intentions to stay on top of things, however the to-do list often was overwhelming and I fell into the trap of putting things off. This led to me cramming to get everything done right before the deadlines. Year after year during each semester, I found myself procrastinating and doing the same thing over and over again.  Cramming to get everything done into a short block of time was intense and stressful.  Why was it that even though I had vowed that I would not let history repeat itself, it did!   While it came at the huge cost of lack of sleep, stress, anxiety and overwhelm, why was it that this was something I continued to repeatedly do?

It was years later that I acknowledged that I had developed the habit of procrastination.  It was showing up in various areas of my life

When examining why I continued to repeat this detrimental behaviour I discovered that there were underlying beliefs driving it. Perfectionism, needing to get things right, a fear of failure and self-doubt were some of the underlying causes.  Realizing this was not working for me, I knew I had to make changes in my life.

Is this something that you can relate to?  Have you found yourself in situations where the habit of procrastination interferes in your life?

MANY OF THE HABITS IN OUR LIFE ARE SOMETHING THAT WE REPEATEDLY DO THAT WE AREN’T EVEN CONSCIOUS OF.

Possibly you may have found yourself in a situation where you were dealing with a task that was difficult, so you put things off not knowing why.  Or there were too many things on your dreaded to-do list that you didn’t want to do, so you chose not to do them.  Maybe you were dealing with a task that demanded too much time so you decided to put it off and do it ‘someday’.  Maybe you found yourself in a situation where you were unsure of yourself and uncertain that you would ‘get it’ or ‘do it right’, so you procrastinated to avoid the discomfort.

When we procrastinate is something deeper going on?

What I discovered is that there were reasons for procrastinating. Often the issue is not so much about the to-do list— it is about our perspective and how we choose or not choose to deal with things.

For example, let’s go back to my college years.  As history kept repeating itself, what was really going on? I was pushing things off because I was fearful, felt insecure and doubted myself.    At times, I did feel incompetent and struggled with a lack of self-confidence.  At the root of the procrastination issue, there was definitely something more going on.

That is why it is important to examine WHY we procrastinate and to take responsibility.  Procrastination is a psychological behaviour that has an impact.  It can be a major source of anxiety and stress and it is important to have the courage to change it!

AWARENESS IS KEY

When life gets busy and you have an endless amount of things  to do, be aware of how you procrastinate.

We all do it in one way or another.  Catch yourself when you procrastinate, and be willing to make changes to avoid going down the path of overwhelm.

Be mindful to:

  • See it in the moment when it happens.
  • Identify the beliefs that drive it – Is it fear, insecurity or doubt? What is it?
  • Evaluate the cost – Is procrastinating working for you or is it actually working against you?  What is the impact?
  • Think about how to deal with things and choose not to procrastinate – How does this benefit you?  What is the reward?
  • Make a choice to be empowered – Commit to a plan that works for you to stay on top of your game and keep moving forward!

For me this means making a list of the priorities that need to get done and to simplify things by remembering what is most important.

How I do this— I have a timeline of when I will do it and I schedule it in my calendar.

I make a solid commitment to follow through with my commitments no matter what.  When there are too many things on the to-do list, I realize that it is important to admit it. I remind myself that asking for help is not a weakness, it is a strength.  Delegating responsibility is a wonderful strategy and people really do love to help.

What will you do to help yourself when life is far too busy?

Take responsibility to be your best, take one day at a time and don’t allow the ‘procrastination gremlin’ to distract you.   There will be less stress in your life and the load will feel much lighter.

 

The Perfect Amount of Time to Work Each Day

Author – Dr. Travis Bradberry

The 8-hour workday is an outdated and ineffective approach to work. If you want to be as productive as possible, you need to let go of this relic and find a new approach.

The 8-hour workday was created during the industrial revolution as an effort to cut down on the number of hours of manual labor that workers were forced to endure on the factory floor. This breakthrough was a more humane approach to work two hundred years ago, yet it possesses little relevance for us today.

Like our ancestors, we’re expected to put in 8-hour days, working in long, continuous blocks of time, with few or no breaks. Heck, most people even work right through their lunch hour!

This antiquated approach to work isn’t helping us; it’s holding us back.

The Best Way to Structure Your Day

A study recently conducted by the Draugiem Group used a computer application to track employees’ work habits. Specifically, the application measured how much time people spent on various tasks and compared this to their productivity levels.

In the process of measuring people’s activity, they stumbled upon a fascinating finding: the length of the workday didn’t matter much; what mattered was how people structured their day. In particular, people who were religious about taking short breaks were far more productive than those who worked longer hours.

The ideal work-to-break ratio was 52 minutes of work, followed by 17 minutes of rest. People who maintained this schedule had a unique level of focus in their work. For roughly an hour at a time, they were 100% dedicated to the task they needed to accomplish. They didn’t check Facebook “real quick” or get distracted by e-mails. When they felt fatigue (again, after about an hour), they took short breaks, during which they completely separated themselves from their work. This helped them to dive back in refreshed for another productive hour of work.

Your Brain Wants an Hour On, 15 Minutes Off

People who have discovered this magic productivity ratio crush their competition because they tap into a fundamental need of the human mind: the brain naturally functions in spurts of high energy (roughly an hour) followed by spurts of low energy (15–20 minutes).

For most of us, this natural ebb and flow of energy leaves us wavering between focused periods of high energy followed by far less productive periods, when we tire and succumb to distractions.

The best way to beat exhaustion and frustrating distractions is to get intentional about your workday. Instead of working for an hour or more and then trying to battle through distractions and fatigue, when your productivity begins to dip, take this as a sign that it’s time for a break.

Real breaks are easier to take when you know they’re going to make your day more productive. We often let fatigue win because we continue working through it (long after we’ve lost energy and focus), and the breaks we take aren’t real breaks (checking your e-mail and watching YouTube doesn’t recharge you the same way as taking a walk does).

Take Charge of Your Workday

The 8-hour workday can work for you if you break your time into strategic intervals. Once you align your natural energy with your effort, things begin to run much more smoothly. Here are four tips that will get you into that perfect rhythm.

Break your day into hourly intervals. We naturally plan what we need to accomplish by the end of the day, the week, or the month, but we’re far more effective when we focus on what we can accomplish right now. Beyond getting you into the right rhythm, planning your day around hour-long intervals simplifies daunting tasks by breaking them into manageable pieces. If you want to be a literalist, you can plan your day around 52-minute intervals if you like, but an hour works just as well.

Respect your hour. The interval strategy only works because we use our peak energy levels to reach an extremely high level of focus for a relatively short amount of time. When you disrespect your hour by texting, checking e-mails, or doing a quick Facebook check, you defeat the entire purpose of the approach.

Take real rest. In the study at Draugiem, they found that employees who took more frequent rests than the hourly optimum were more productive than those who didn’t rest at all. Likewise, those who took deliberately relaxing breaks were better off than those who, when “resting,” had trouble separating themselves from their work. Getting away from your computer, your phone, and your to-do list is essential to boosting your productivity. Breaks such as walking, reading, and chatting are the most effective forms of recharging because they take you away from your work. On a busy day, it might be tempting to think of dealing with e-mails or making phone calls as breaks, but they aren’t, so don’t give in to this line of thought.

Don’t wait until your body tells you to take a break. If you wait until you feel tired to take a break, it’s too late—you’ve already missed the window of peak productivity. Keeping to your schedule ensures that you work when you’re the most productive and that you rest during times that would otherwise be unproductive. Remember, it’s far more productive to rest for short periods than it is to keep on working when you’re tired and distracted.

Bringing It All Together

Breaking your day down into chunks of work and rest that match your natural energy levels feels good, makes your workday go faster, and boosts your productivity.

Do you notice your energy and focus waxing and waning according to the cycle described above? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below as I learn just as much from you as you do from me.

Stay Grounded

Integrating Your Life by Staying Grounded
Harvard Business Review – Discovering Your Authentic Leadership by Bill George, Peter Sims, Andrew N. McLean, Diana Mayer

Integrating their lives is one of the greatest challenges leaders face. To lead a balanced life, you need to bring together all of its constituent elements—work, family, community, and friends—so that you can be the same person in each environment. Think of your life as a house, with a bedroom for your personal life, a study for your professional life, a family room for your family, and a living room to share with your friends.

Think of your life as a house. Can you knock down the walls between the rooms and be the same person in each of them?

As John Donahoe, president of eBay Marketplaces and former worldwide managing director of Bain, stressed, being authentic means maintaining a sense of self no matter where you are. He warned, “The world can shape you if you let it. To have a sense of yourself as you live, you must make conscious choices. Sometimes the choices are really hard, and you make a lot of mistakes.”

Authentic leaders have a steady and confident presence. They do not show up as one person one day and another person the next. Integration takes discipline, particularly during stressful times when it is easy to become reactive and slip back into bad habits. Donahoe feels strongly that integrating his life has enabled him to become a more effective leader. “There is no nirvana,” he said. “The struggle is constant, as the trade-offs don’t get any easier as you get older.” But for authentic leaders, personal and professional lives are not a zero-sum game. As Donahoe said, “I have no doubt today that my children have made me a far more effective leader in the workplace. Having a strong personal life has made the difference.”

Leading is high-stress work. There is no way to avoid stress when you are responsible for people, organizations, outcomes, and managing the constant uncertainties of the environment. The higher you go, the greater your freedom to control your destiny but also the higher the degree of stress. The question is not whether you can avoid stress but how you can control it to maintain your own sense of equilibrium.

Authentic leaders are constantly aware of the importance of staying grounded. Besides spending time with their families and close friends, authentic leaders get physical exercise, engage in spiritual practices, do community service, and return to the places where they grew up. All are essential to their effectiveness as leaders, enabling them to sustain their authenticity.

How to Achieve What You Most Want?

Are you one of the many people who sets intentions, has goals and creates a plan?  Studies show that setting goals is key to success.

SUCCESS STARTS WITH A PLAN

There was a study done on a group of graduating students who were in the Harvard MBA Program where the students were asked to set clear written goals for their future and to also make plans of how they would accomplish this.  In this group of students, 3% of the students wrote down their goals, while the other 13% had goals however they did not write them down. The remaining 84% of the students had no specific goals at all.

They interviewed the students ten years later and the findings were astounding!  The 13% who had goals but had not written them down—were earning on average, twice as much at the 84% who had none.  The 3% who had clear written goals— were earning ten times as much as the 97% put together. (Article in – What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School)

These extraordinary results are inspiring! If you want to succeed, setting goals is one of the most important things that you can do.

In my years of experience as a Coach, one thing I have discovered is that when it comes to setting goals, a lot of people are resistant.  Why is this?  Is it enough to just set  “SMART” Goals that are— Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely— or is there more to this?  I believe there is.

In order to accomplish your goals, you must set goals around the things that are MOST important to you.  Your goals must align with your values.

When your goals align with your values you have a higher chance for success!

What do you really want?

  • Do you want to have a better self-image, be healthier, or be more successful?
  • Do you want to build a stronger relationship with someone who is important to you?
  • Do you want to have more fulfillment and happiness in your life?

Set goals and align your goals with your values!

Here’s how:

  1. Clearly define what your values are.  What is most important to you?
  2. What do you want?  Make a list of some of the things that you want to achieve.  What do you want to do that would make you happy and proud?
  3. Evaluate what you wrote down -What is one thing that stands out?  Make sure it aligns with your values.
  4. Set a goal – Create a clear plan of how you will accomplish your goal.
  5. Be motivated from the inside out – Know why is it important to you?  What is the reward?
  6. Be sure to tell someone and create accountability – With support you are more likely to succeed and you have people to cheer you on.
  7. Accomplish your goal and celebrate!

Setting values driven goals is a discipline that pays off!  Make sure to give it a try and guaranteed, you will experience increased fulfillment in your life.

 

The Road to Happiness

What are the simple secrets to a happy life?

What are your keys to happiness?

It is a common practice of mine to read inspirational thoughts to stay motivated and inspired.  My personal happiness is 100% my responsibility.  I am in charge!

Today I read this excerpt in the book The Road to Happiness, written by Mac Anderson and BJ Gallaghe that inspired me.  I hope it inspires you!

 

Benjamin Franklin pointed out that, “The U.S. Constitution doesn’t guarantee happiness, only the pursuit of it. You have to catch up to it yourself.”

A lot of us pin our happiness to external factors…if only we had more money…or a better house…or whatever your latest “want” is, but your happiness has been…and always will be… right inside yourself.

That concept is liberating because it finally puts you in charge of your own happiness.

When I travel on business, I like to talk to the taxi drivers who take me from the airport to my hotel, or to a convention center, or to a restaurant. Taxi drivers are often immigrants with interesting personal histories and unusual cultural backgrounds. I ask them how long they’ve been in America, how they chose which city to live in, and what they like best about where they live. Of course, I also ask them for advice on good local restaurants and any special attractions they’d recommend to a visitor. I’ve had some great experiences on my travels, thanks to the advice of taxi drivers!

On one trip about ten years ago, I was making conversation with the taxi driver, asking him my usual questions about how he came to live where he lived. Then I asked him a hypothetical question: “If you could live anywhere in the world—and if money was no object—where would you live?”

Without hesitating even for a second, he replied, “I live in my heart. So it really doesn’t matter where my body lives. If I am happy inside, then I live in paradise, no matter where my residence is.”

I felt humbled and a little foolish for my question. Of course he was right—happiness is an inside job. He had reminded me of something I already knew, but had forgotten. If you can’t find happiness inside yourself, you’ll never find it in the outside world, no matter where you move. Wherever you go, there you are. You take yourself with you.

I am grateful for the wisdom of that taxi driver. And I’m grateful for all the wisdom others have shared with me about how to be happy.

What are you grateful for? May you find your happiness from within.

Winter Blues

The year started with a bang—you were positive and optimistic that this was going to be an incredible year. Yet as the month wore on, you found it increasingly difficult to stay energized and positive. Is this your reality?

What happened? Why is it so difficult to focus?

Margie and Darren Schamuhm copy18

Do you have a case of the winter blues?

 

Winter blues in January and February are quite common. With the holiday season now over, the beautiful lights that once sparkled and lit up the neighborhoods are now dark and lifeless, and the holiday bills have started streaming in.

Doesn’t it seem like the spring will never come?

SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) is a common type of depression that many people face during the winter months. The shorter days and the angle of the sun, means less exposure to daylight, so you absorb less vitamin D from the sun’s rays. This can leave you feeling tired and sluggish, and dragged down by a serious case of the winter blahs.

What do you do when you are not as optimistic as you would like to be? 

It all starts with focusing on your health.  Self care is important and taking care of yourself is how you make yourself a priority.

Not sure where to start? Get started by investing in the basics.

Good Health is Wealth

Tip # 1 – Vitamin D is your friend

Consider taking a vitamin D3 supplement, and/or finding a way to enjoy the sun. If you can’t afford to take a vacation somewhere warm and sunny, you can still visit a ski hill nearby, or you can explore light therapy and full spectrum lighting.

Try to get outside even though it’s cold. You’ll be surprised at how energized you feel after spending some time outdoors.

Tip #2 – Exercise is key.

You may not like to exercise and you’re not alone — most people don’t like to do it so they never commit.  This doesn’t change that exercise is essential to your well-being.

Exercise is a discipline that has huge rewards. Our bodies are meant to move and I am sure you have heard the saying “move it or lose it.”  Studies show that every health condition is positively affected by exercise. Plus exercise releases endorphins which is the feel-good hormones that promote wellbeing.

Simply getting your body moving can have a positive impact on every aspect of your life.

Tip #3 – Simplify your diet.

Simple carbohydrates (like bread or pasta made with white flour) turn into sugar in your blood and can drag down your energy. Try to replace simple carbs with plenty of fruits, vegetables and lean proteins. You will have more energy throughout the day, and it will also help you maintain your ideal weight so you never have to diet.

Tip #4 – Drink more water.

Proper hydration is essential for your health.  Your body needs water!

How much?  A simple formula to calculate how much water your body needs to drink is to take your body weight and divide it by two. The resulting number is how many ounces of water you need per day.

Many health issues arise when we don’t drink enough water. Approximately 70% of our body is water and when you’re hydrated, you feel energized. So drink up!

Tip #5 – Get enough sleep.

Studies show how necessary sleep is for our health. Even though the amount of sleep differs for each person, lack of sleep has a negative effect on everyone.

Not only does lack of sleep affect your memory and ability to concentrate but it also affects your health and emotional wellbeing. When you feel overwhelmed, it’s often because you did not get a good night’s sleep.

 

Pay attention to your emotional wellbeing

Have you felt down in the dump after being around someone that was negative?  There is a saying, “Tell me who your friends are and I will tell you who you will become.”  As much as I argued this as a teenager, I must say, I do find this perspective interesting.  Being around people who love drama and are negative, will have an ill effect.

The people who surround you, have an impact in your life!

We all need positive, encouraging and supportive people in our lives to thrive.  Sometimes we may have to do a “relationship cleanse”   to experience more meaningful and fulfilling relationships.

Find people in your life that you can trust and who are an emotional support for you.  Ask for what you want and need.

Making yourself a priority in your life right now is the best thing that you can do!  This will ncourage your optimism to grow.

 

 

Take action— and alleviate anxiety

An excerpt from
The Power of Positive Doing
by BJ Gallagher

Action Alleviates Anxiety 

For many years, I suffered from tension headaches with painful symptoms: impaired vision, sensitivity to light, excruciating throbbing in my temples, and sometimes nausea. They were awful. I consulted with doctors and dentists; I tried various medications; I took up meditation and tried bio-feedback. Some things helped a little bit—but nothing seemed very effective for any length of time.Then I discovered something interesting—that taking action eased my headaches. Physical action was the best—anything that got my body moving. I could mow the lawn, wash the kitchen floor, workout in the gym, do some laundry, work in the garden, wash windows, wax the car—anything physical. Getting my body into action enabled me to work out the tension that was causing the headaches. Other types of action worked, too—calling a trusted friend and having a good conversation; having sex (though that isn’t always an option); writing in my journal; going for a long, relaxing drive.

In short, any action that I can take to dissipate the pent-up tension in my head will do the trick. My head feels better; my neck and shoulders relax; and I feel the satisfaction of having done something.

Perhaps your anxiety doesn’t show up in headaches. Maybe you carry your tension in some other part of your body—your back, your stomach, your shoulders, your intestines, your sinuses. Doctors estimate that as many as 80 percent of the physical problems their patients report are stress-induced! Taking action to discharge the pent-up energy caused by stress can prevent health problems, and can even cure some of the ones you might already have. Getting started is half the battle. A body at rest tends to stay at rest and overcoming our own inertia is a huge step forward.

If you can get yourself to take just one step forward, you’re now in motion—and a body in motion tends to stay in motion.

When my car won’t start, I call on AAA. When my happiness won’t start, I call on the other Triple A—Action Alleviates Anxiety. So can you!

 

 

INTEND… to succeed!

 

 

In last months Newsletter, I wrote about the power of intentions.   When you commit to your dream with full intention to make it a reality, and then take the necessary steps to achieve this, you will always get results!

An intention is “a deliberate plan and purpose to succeed.”   What is your intention?

  • How is your life working for you?  Have you positioned yourself to be in the “winners seat” of your life?  What steps are you taking to achieve the success that you desire?

It is quite common that as the month of January comes and goes, so do all those great intentions.  They head straight out for “never-never-land” if we did not take deliberate action and commit to a plan.

  • Has the dial on your “potential thermostat” been dialed down? Have you slipped into autopilot and have you resorted to comfort?  Are you been caught by the enemy called “average” and compromised your self?  Have you adopted the belief that being and doing just “okay” is good enough?

Well honey… it is time to stop the krap… see the trap… and wake up and smell the coffee!

And… this is not just for “Pete’s sake”… but for the your sake and the sake of your Greater Self!  YOU matter!
When YOU matter, it is absolutely true that mediocrity is not what you want!  You want a game plan that means experiencing life the way that you really want!  Settling may be a familiar pattern but familiarity does not bring you the growth you need.  You’ll be bored and unfulfilled in a matter of no time…. doing what has not worked in the past and you will be totally unsatisfied.

So stop the “none sense”… get your head out of the sand and step out of your comfort zone.   This “quick sand” perspective of complacency will bring you nothing but deep disappointment!

 

Let’s shift the FOCUS:

Imagine attaining the results you really want in every aspect of your life:

• Having that spark back in your relationship(s) and feeling alive.
• Sharing deep friendship.
• Having the life that you love.
• Seeing the reward of your hard work.
• Waking up to a day full of meaning and purpose.
• Having the positivity that sees and believes in the endless possibilities.

What is the “large” life you dream about?  What is your vision?
If you lost sight of your dream and vision, you can once again bring this into focus.  This all begins by committing to the plan… YOUR plan to succeed!

 

SO BEGIN AGAIN!

• What is really important to you?
• What areas of your life do you desire more fulfillment?
• Where do you need to refocus and align your priorities?
• How will you go after what you so desperately desire?

When you make this a priority… take action and design the strategic steps to make this your reality… you are setting yourself up for success!   You don’t have to have all the information of what to do and how to start. You just simply have to commit to take action.

 

“You don’t have to be great to start, you just have to start to be great!”

I have worked with many people who have a deep desire to accomplish their goals yet “when the going gets tough”, they give up.   When “push”  comes to “shove” they choose not to fight back and this is how they sabotage their greatest potential.  This is almost always because they have not made their dream a priority in their lives.  Not committing and making excuses is what will keep you from having the success you desire.

There is only one way to move forward… and that is by moving your limitations out of the way!

Most things that are really valuable in life don’t come easy!  Hasn’t this been your experience?  What is most valuable requires hard work, discipline and a deep commitment to the process.  There is no short cut.

An example of this is my goal to be physically fit.  It is absolutely important that I stay healthy and fit especially as I age.  I have a personal insurance plan that I continually have to invest in— to stay well, be energized and to enjoy life and appreciate the people that I love.  This is so important because I have dealt with serious health issues that have debilitated my life.  I know that your life looks very different when your health is compromised.  My mom has always said,  “If you don’t have your health, you have nothing!”  She is absolutely right.  My health is what I deeply value and when this is compromised, it is costly.

My proactive practice is to discipline myself to workout, stay active, eat right, and to address “the stuff” (if you know what I mean).  This is not always that easy.  There are days when I don’t feel like it especially when I am tired, and when I would much rather be doing other things.

This is the time I must be mindful of my goal and of what is really  important to me.  Remembering my vision, knowing how important this is to me, and having a “commitment plan”, is how I take action!  This is how I achieve the success I desire.

 

What is your desire?  What do you need to commit to make happen in your personal or profession life to have more of what you want?

  • Imagine finding a solution to what keeps you awake at night.
  • Imagine setting that benchmark of success you desire and achieving it!
  • Imagine seeing your life very different 6 months or one year from now!

It is “all” possible if you begin and have results in mind!

 

FAITH = Having the courage to take the necessary steps you need to take in your life right now!

Have faith in you and begin!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Keeping Your Brain in Top Shape to Get the Results You Want.

Your Brain on Exercise: Eight Ways That the Same Workouts That Get Your Body Into Top Shape Can Help Keep Your Brain Fit, Too

Hollis Templeton
Mclatchy-Tribune News Service.
10-12-11

You’re a smart cookie when it comes to your health, so you know that regular exercise is one of the best ways to cut your risk of disease, boost your immune system, and maintain a trim body. But flat abs, bigger biceps, and fewer colds are just the beginning. Mounting research suggests that regular sweat sessions can help keep your brain fit, too.

Science shows us that aerobic activity can improve mental processes such as planning, multitasking, focusing without getting distracted, and making and remembering associations (e.g., banking away the name and face of a new acquaintance or remembering where you left your keys), says Michelle Voss, PhD, a researcher in the department of psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

“So far, there is the most support for light aerobic exercise, like walking three times a week for 45 minutes to an hour,” says Voss, adding that according to research, resistance training two times a week also may enhance brain function.

Voss and her colleagues recently examined 111 human and animal studies on the long-term cognitive benefits of cardio and strength-training workouts. In their review article, published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, the researchers conclude that exercise helps us maintain brain and cognitive health throughout life. Animal studies suggest that aerobic exercise increases levels of brain chemicals that protect nerve cells from damage as well as boost the function of mitochondria – the source of energy within cells – giving your noggin more power to create energy to fuel brain activity, says Voss.
The researchers note that more studies are needed in order to understand how specific aspects of exercise influence brain physiology and function in humans.

DISCOVER EIGHT TANGIBLE BRAIN-BOOSTING PERKS YOU CAN REAP FROM REGULAR EXERCISE.


Be more productive at work:

If your mind is wandering to anything but the task in front of you, leaving your workplace for a workout may be just the mental break your mind needs. An International Journal of Workplace Health Management study concluded that engaging in midday exercise boosts overall job performance by 15 percent. Researchers asked 210 employees who worked at a university, life insurance firm, or computer company to complete questionnaires about their job performance and mood on the days they exercised and on the days they did not. Study participants did anything from taking a yoga class to playing a game of pickup basketball for 30 to 60 minutes.

Of those participants, 72 percent reported being able to better manage their time on exercise days compared with nonexercise days. After exercise, questionnaire scores were 21 percent higher for concentration, 25 percent higher for finishing work without breaks, and 22 percent higher for ability to meet deadlines.

Stay focused in school:

Similar findings are evidenced in elementary schools. A University of Illinois study published in the journal Neuroscience suggests that physical education classes, recess, and after-school sports improve students’ abilities to pay attention. In one experiment, 20 nine-year-old students took a flanker test, which assesses the ability to focus on a single object among a host of visual distractions following 20 minutes of rest. On another day, students took the same test after 20 minutes of walking on a treadmill. The students performed better on the test after walking, suggesting that physical activity improved the kids’ ability to “allocate attentional resources,” meaning that after exercise, they could better tune out visual “noise” and zero in on a central object.

Control ADHD without drugs:

Research even suggests that exercise may be helpful in alleviating symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a cognitive disorder classified by inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. Physical activity has been shown to boost levels of dopamine, a brain chemical that affects learning and attention and one that is in short supply in individuals with ADHD. To test this, Korean researchers followed the effects of 30 minutes of treadmill walking on hyperactive mice. Their results, published in the journal Neuroscience Letters, showed that rodents who ran on a treadmill for 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week for 28 days were less hyperactive and had higher levels of tyrosine hydroxylase, an enzyme needed to make dopamine.

Improve academic performance:

Under pressure to meet strict academic guidelines, many schools have been forced to cut time spent in physical education classes and at recess. At the same time, schools are being urged to help reduce rising childhood obesity in part by increasing opportunities for physical activity. The good news for educators looking for a happy middle ground: Studies suggest that bouts of exercise throughout the day may be just what kids need to succeed.

In a CDC research review of 50 studies that examined the effects of school-based physical activity on academic performance, half of the studies showed that being active had a positive effect on achievement, while half demonstrated no effect, and virtually no studies revealed a negative effect. Most striking, the review revealed that recess, physical education classes, after-school sports, and 5- to 10-minute physical activity breaks in the classroom improved students’ concentration and helped them achieve higher scores on standardized tests.

Why? Exercise aids nonautomatic processes in the brain. “What seems to be the most consistently affected is executive functions – or those cognitive areas that regulate higher-level cognition – attention, working memory, task coordination, planning and so on,” says Kirk Erickson, PhD, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Pittsburgh.

Learn faster and remember more:

If new names and faces never seem to stick, you might try beefing up your hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for consolidating information from your short-term to long-term memory. In a Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences study, 120 older adults were assigned to one of two exercise programs, either walking around a track for 40 minutes a day, three times a week, or performing stretching and toning exercises at the same frequency. After a year, walkers demonstrated 2.12 percent growth in the right hippocampus and 1.97 percent growth in the left, while the same brain regions in those who stretched decreased in volume by 1.40 percent and 1.43 percent, respectively.

Aerobic exercisers also demonstrated improvement on memory tests as well as higher levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein in the hippocampus that aids learning, memory, and higher thinking. To ramp up levels of BDNF, increase your exercise intensity. According to a Neurobiology of Learning and Memory study, people learned vocabulary words 20 percent faster and had bigger spikes in their levels of BDNF and dopamine after intense exercise compared with after low-intensity physical activity.

Protect your brain cells and stay sharp late in life:

Certain cognitive skills – your ability to make rapid comparisons, for example – get a little rusty later in life, and some studies suggest that this process can begin as early as the late 20s in healthy adults. “The human brain is always creating new brain cells, but this process slows down with age,” says Voss. “However, with aerobic exercise the rate of the birth of new brain cells can be maintained into old age,” she says.

In a 6-month Journal of Gerontology study 59 healthy but sedentary adults ages 60 to 79 exercised for 1 hour 3 times a week, performing either an aerobic workout or a series of toning and stretching exercises. Study participants in the cardio group demonstrated growth in their brains’ gray and white matter, areas of the brain that are often reported to show substantial age-related deterioration.

Improve blood flow to stay alert:

Animal studies suggest that aerobic training also results in the generation of new blood vessels, which has been linked to improved learning and memory. “Aerobic exercise makes it easier for blood vessels in the brain to regenerate after damage and to grow. This means aerobic exercise increases the health and number of blood vessels in the brain, which has been linked to better brain function in both animals and humans,” says Voss.

Ward off dementia and Alzheimer’s disease:

Not only can regular workouts help ward off routine signs of aging, but also protect against more serious losses of cognitive ability, like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, a research review published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings examined 130 studies on exercise and late-in-life cognitive decline and linked aerobic activity to lower incidences of dementia.
Squeezing in 30 minutes of cardio three or more times a week can lower dementia risk by 30 to 40 percent, according to a study published in Annals of Internal Medicine. Researchers followed 1,740 adults ages 65 and older who showed no signs of dementia and evaluated the participants’ health every 2 years. At the conclusion of the 6-year study, 1,185 participants were found to be dementia-free, 77 percent of whom reported exercising at least three times a week.

In a study of 4,615 Canadian adults ages 65 and older, University of Ottawa researchers found a link between regular physical activity (as well as coffee and wine consumption) and reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease, dementia that worsens over time. A possible explanation: The neurochemicals generated by exercise help the brain form new neurons in the hippocampus, one of the most negatively affected regions in Alzheimer’s disease, says Voss.

While most research that links exercise to increased brainpower favors cardio over strength-training, a new study published in Neurobiology of Aging revealed that resistance training changes how well older women think and how blood flows within their brains. University of British Columbia researchers found that after women lifted weights twice a week for 12 months, they performed better on tests that gauged mental processing than women who completed a 1-year balance and toning program. Brain scans revealed more activity in the parts of the brain that control executive functions.

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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